We currently live in a globalized world where, thanks to technology, for better or for worse, we have immediate access to a multiplicity of data, stories, narratives and discourses about the different events and phenomena that circulate through all kinds of media channels. In this environment of constant exchange, extreme relativism, and a lack of absolute truths, a confluence of contradictory interpretations about current events and problems arises. This makes it increasingly difficult to decide what to believe in and hinders the ability to distinguish between what is “true” and what is “false”. In this complicated context the focus of 21st century education must, far from only transmitting content, be aimed at developing those competencies that stimulate divergent, creative, complex and critical thinking. The latter is understood as a fundamentally rational skill, not fortuitous or casual, and depends on reason as the most effective tool for its purpose: to decant those judgments that are ethically “fair,” “correct” and “true” away from dogmatisms (Fisher, 2011). The development of critical thinking – since it enables the understanding of complex social phenomena and promotes reflection on different perspectives – favors peacebuilding. Critical thinking, therefore, creates empathy, tolerance, and understanding of differences, and, it stimulates consensus building.
The development of critical thinking, understood as a cognitive process of a rational, reflective, logical and analytical nature, oriented to the systematic questioning of reality and the world (Butterworth and Thwaites, 2013), is considered by the University of Cambridge as one of the fundamental pillars of current global education. The root of the term “critical” has its origins in the ancient Greek kritikos which means “being able to judge, evaluate, discern or decide.” In this way, the term moves away from the simple connotation of the act of criticism, linked to the action of finding flaws or expressing an opinion of dislike (Butterworth and Thwaites, 2013). The broader meaning of the word “critical” refers to the ability to establish a “fair” and objective judgment based on evidence and logical analysis of a particular phenomenon or element. If critical thinking were summarized only as the action of making judgments based on subjective opinion, any individual could do so without the need for specialized training or practice. However, the ability to make critical judgments goes beyond the simple act of expressing an opinion, preference or taste. Critical judgment begins with the foundations of rigorous knowledge, the exploration of multi-perspectives and expertise in a field.
In order to promote the development of this intellectual and reflective competence, it is necessary to stimulate in students, from an early age, a set of thinking sub-skills such as evaluation, analysis, and logical reasoning, among others, so that they can learn to construct valid conclusions, and objective and reasonable positions on the phenomena and problems in the present world. Teaching these skills in basic and higher education represents great challenges in the teaching-learning process since it demands changes in the traditional roles between teachers and students. Teachers must focus their efforts and practice on teaching how and not what to think; on the other hand, students must learn to be independent and autonomous in the search for knowledge, which requires work, responsibility and effort from both parties. One of the main challenges in relation to teaching critical thinking lies in trying to change the way we think. That is, it favors reflective and flexible thinking, which includes being able to doubt, question, interpret and reinterpret facts. In this dynamic the meaning of the facts themselves are also in permanent debate and have no absolute certainties.
Globally, according to the 2030 agenda that sets the path to sustainable development proposed by the United Nations program “to build a more just and equitable world for the entire population, in addition to caring for the environment” (United Nations, 2015), peacebuilding is one of the 17 main objectives. Similarly, in the national arena, peace education is one of the guidelines from the Colombian National Ministry of Education. According to Decree 1038 from 2015, which regulates that peace education is defined as, “the appropriation of knowledge, citizenship competencies for a peaceful coexistence, democratic participation, the construction of equity, respect for plurality, human rights and international humanitarian law.” For this reason, 21st century education, beyond the current conjunctural discourses, must opt to focus on teaching students to understand and critically evaluate evidence, as well as to tolerate various points of view and arguments in discourses that are based on the same facts. We need young people who have the courage to challenge dogmatic truths and who can debate openly with respect, tolerance and empathy for others. It is from the debate where one can decant, learn to seek arguments and rethink them. The exercise of putting oneself in another person’s position creates understanding from the difference, a search for consensus, and places of convergence, which contribute significantly to peacebuilding.
In conclusion, the development of critical thinking in basic and higher education is a key tool for peacebuilding insofar as it manages to eliminate the idea of the “enemy” as the “other” or different” and count on understanding within otherness. The creation of flexible and active classrooms, which encourage and promote a dynamic debate-reflection process, will contribute to the configuration of active political subjects capable of participating in making better decisions in the future. Understanding that one of the tasks of peace education is to reconfigure relationships among citizens, in which we can promote living the values that derive from human rights, democratic participation, prevention of violence and conflict resolution, there is nothing better than focusing our teaching efforts on preparing young people as transformative political agents who are able to find solutions to local and global problems, willing to innovate and transcend past mistakes, in order to build a more inclusive and just world for everyone.
Catalina Murgueitio-Manrique Head of Social Studies Department at St. George’s School, and Cambridge Global Perspectives teacher. Historian. PhD and MA in History. Specialization in Bilingual Education. More than 12 years in education and research in Social Sciences. Bibliography
Butterworth, J. and Thwaites, G. (2013). Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fisher, A. (2011). Critical Thinking: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Puchta, H. and Williams, M. (2011). Teaching Young Learner to Think: ELT Activities for Young Learners Ages 6-12. Cambridge: Heibling Languages.
DECRETO 1038 DE 2015, (Mayo 25), Por el cual se reglamenta la Cátedra de la Paz En: www.alcaldiabogota.gov.co/sisjur/normas/Norma1.jsp?i=61735
United Nations. Noticias ONU. El 1º de enero entra en vigor la nueva Agenda de Desarrollo Sostenible (On January 1, the New Agenda for Sustainable Development Begins With Vigor.) Retrieved from: www.un.org/spanish/News/story.asp?NewsID=34141#.Wgn_MLpFyUl
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Translation by Anne M. Dye